Monkey See, Monkey Do
By SM Ford
I’ll never forget three-year-old Aidan walking around with one end of a string in his ear and the other in his pocket. What was he doing? Copying his dad who had his cell phone in his pocket and the wired earpiece in his ear. Aidan didn’t know what Dad’s string was, but he wanted to be just like him.
Kids copy all kinds of things we do as parents. Some we wish they didn’t.
Want polite children? Be polite to them and others. That includes the clerk at the store, wait staff, even the driver in the other car. Your kid is listening and observing.
Want kids who are honest? Be honest yourself. They’ll hear if you call in “sick to work,” but are really taking a play day. They’ll notice if you turn down a friend’s invitation with “sorry, we’re busy” when you aren’t. A simple “no, that’s not going to work” is always sufficient.
Want children who keep their promises? Keep yours to them and others. You get the idea.
Speak positively. I misread this quote by Haim Ginott: “If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.” I read it as “let them overhear the nice things you say about others.” Both are important. If all they hear is complaints about themselves, they won’t feel valued. But if they only hear negativity from you about others, they’ll value others less, too. Including you.
Share your dreams. Let your children see you working towards your goals. This will teach them that hard work is required to reach their dreams, too. “It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.” – Joyce Maynard
Don’t blame the child for your bad habits. As a teen babysitter when I heard a father mad at his child for cussing, I thought it was stupid. I’d heard the man use those curse words before. I wanted to ask, “Who do you think he learned it from?” My brother-in-law Gary was annoyed at his son for saying “ain’t” and wondered where Joe had learned it. You can imagine his chagrin when Gary realized it was him. Oops. Evaluate yourself and make sure you aren’t doing the behavior your kid is doing, before you scold.
Teach apologies and forgiveness. If you apologize to your children when you make a mistake or hurt them, you’ll find they are very forgiving. And it’s easier to remind them to apologize when they know you are willing to do the same. Though I do remember one of my grandsons saying, “I didn’t mean to hurt him.” Well, that’s good! But his mom explained that he still needed to apologize to his brother. And the other grandson needed to accept that apology. Are you accepting of your child’s apologies? Do you forgive?
Teach manners. Who else will teach your child how to chew with their mouth closed, say excuse me when they burp or pass gas, etc. if you don’t? Reinforce by your examples. And some manner lessons can be made into a game. I remember hearing Dr. Dobson talk about teaching his children to put their napkin in their lap at meals. If they failed to do so, they had to run around the dining room table. When he was caught sans napkin, he ran around the table. I bet his kids never forgot that!
Teach Obedience. Yes, you should teach your child to mind you and others in authority. But, do you obey rules like not taking outside food into a theater? (Ouch to myself for that one.) What about obeying road signs? Including the speed limit. My friend Nancy’s daughter had learned to read. While riding in the car when her mom ran an errand, Melissa read the sign, “No right turn when children are present.” Melissa asked her mom, “Do you want me to duck?” Nancy explained that the rule didn’t apply to children inside the car, but obviously her daughter was watching.
Model Reading. Whether you read fiction, nonfiction, newspapers, or magazines, kids need to see you read. It will help them while they learn to read. I remember being a bit annoyed when I’d find one of my daughters reading a book I was already reading, but they learned to mark my place, and I let my annoyance go because I was proud they were good readers. And if a child can read, she can learn so much in life.
Of course, you aren’t going to be a perfect model for your child. But that’s okay, too. Letting him know that none of us are perfect is a good thing.
About the Author
SM Ford is a Pacific Northwest gal, who has also lived in the Midwest (Colorado and Kansas) and on the east coast (New Jersey). She and her husband have two daughters and two sons-in-law and three grandsons. She can't figure out how she got to be old enough for all that, however.
Sue likes traveling and animals, especially those in the cat family, and has a dog and cat who own her.
You can read SM Ford's "Real Parenting" column on the 4th Thursday each month here at Pandora's Box Gazette.